On Monday morning, as I rode on a MARTA train to Atlanta magazine’s downtown office, my southbound Red Line train screeched to a halt somewhere between Lindbergh and Arts Center stations, giving every passenger on board a peek at the dark and eerie underground tunnels that half of the system runs through. Five women with large suitcases sat near the doors. One sighed and looked at her friend. “We’re never getting out of this damn city, are we?”
The train started rolling a minute later, but anyone with ears (and a Twitter feed) knew why each airport-bound traveler was particularly exasperated this morning—their flight had been canceled when a fire at a Georgia Power substation caused a blackout Sunday afternoon at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, cancelling all flights and leaving thousands stranded. As of Monday morning, power is restored and passengers are slowly heading home, but here’s how the situation went down and what everyone was saying about it.
Just after 1:00 p.m. Sunday, a fire at a Georgia Power underground facility caused parts of Hartsfield-Jackson to lose power. Reports began rolling in on social media, showing darkened hallways and passengers stuck on planes. The FAA issued a ground stop for all flights.
— WSB-TV (@wsbtv) December 17, 2017
This is what I imagine hell is like. Strobe lights, overpriced food, and lounges I will never be able to access.
— Thomas Wheatley (@thomaswheatley) December 17, 2017
Darkness and crowds at Hartsfield-Jackson. Power outage has stopped flights. Video credit : Arelis Rivera inside H/J pic.twitter.com/y6GqpuKHE9
— Tony Thomas (@TonyThomasWSB) December 17, 2017
Passengers stuck on planes began to chronicle their experiences:
Been on the ground since 12:50. They just started passing out water and are going to give headphones to everyone without a pair to use the entertainment system. pic.twitter.com/gxRRiXu5mu
— Natalie L. Ammons (@nammons) December 17, 2017
so the entire Atlanta airport lost power and I have been sitting on this plane on the ground for 45 minutes and I think I am about to ask the man in front of me how he feels about feminism
— Elena Cristina (@ElenaLazaro2) December 17, 2017
Because there’s no new news from @ATLairport, our pilot has taken to giving us NFL updates every 20 minutes while we sit on the tarmac waiting for Atlanta Airport Power Outage to end.
— Kathryn Cox (@kattyrincox) December 17, 2017
Pilot: We'd like to welcome you to the Atlanta airport … it currently doesn't have power.
— Lexi Coon (@lexibranta) December 17, 2017
Inside was no better. Dozens of video showed darkened hallways, sometimes with flashing emergency lights and blaring alarms. As the afternoon wore on, people began resting on baggage carousels and check-in desks.
TOTAL DARKNESS AT @ATLairport: Power outage leaves thousands of travelers stranded. Here's a look inside:
— WSB-TV (@wsbtv) December 17, 2017
BREAKING: Prayers for Millennials with dead cell phones at Atlanta Hartsfield Airport and no way to charge up… They now know how life was in 1982. #atlantaairport #AtlPowerOutage pic.twitter.com/QTZ5TSQJP9
— Joe Floccari NewsGuy (@JoeFloccari) December 17, 2017
The video of this employee sliding down an packed escalator to get to the bottom went completely viral:
As did the few celebrity tweets that emerged from hurdler and bobsledder Lolo Jones and, ironically, former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx:
Hi yes I would like to order a pizza the delivery address is the Atlanta airport runway. Landed hours ago from Germany can’t get off plane bc customs and outage but could customs clear a pizza to come on board?
— Lolo Jones (@lolojones) December 17, 2017
Total and abject failure here at ATL Airport today. I am stuck on @delta flight, passengers and crew tolerating it. But there is no excuse for lack of workable redundant power source. NONE! #atlairport #delta
— anthonyfoxx (@anthonyfoxx) December 17, 2017
Like every other Atlanta disaster, The Walking Dead memes were inevitable
As were the Airplane memes
By 6:30 p.m., all flights were cancelled.
— AJC (@ajc) December 17, 2017
Around 7:30 p.m., power returned to the international terminal, Concourse F. Mayor Kasim Reed (who held a press conference at the airport at 8:30 p.m., apologizing for the mayhem) tweeted just after 10:00 p.m. that all passengers had been deplaned. Also around 10:00 p.m., a miracle was announced: Chick-fil-A would provide food for stranded passengers—on a Sunday.
However—check the time stamp on this tweet from the Atlanta airport—1:13 a.m., about an hour after power was finally restored to the entire airport. So technically, it looks as though travelers received their free Chick-fil-A on Monday. But still.
— Atlanta Airport (@ATLairport) December 18, 2017
The city opened the nearby Georgia International Congress Center for stranded passengers to stay, while others either stayed at the airport or traveled to other hotels. On Monday morning, planes were taking off again as Delta passed out doughnuts, muffins, water, and juice to morning travelers, but no major problem at the country’s busiest airport goes without consequences nationwide. Delta alone cancelled 1,000 flights on Sunday, and the airline waved change fees for passengers traveling to, from, or through Atlanta through today. Southwest offered the same deal for flights scheduled through Tuesday.
Here is the front page of Monday’s AJC:
— Greg Bluestein (@bluestein) December 18, 2017
And a critique of it:
— Landon (@landonhowell) December 18, 2017
Photos of the fire began emerging this morning:
— WSB-TV (@wsbtv) December 18, 2017
As the dust settles, the Twitter commentary continues—conspiracy theories over the origin of the blackout; both angry and grateful travelers tweeting at airlines, reminders that while this blackout was a pain, Puerto Rico still has it a lot worse. A few colorful parting tweets we couldn’t help but chuckle at:
— Caitlin Peluffo (@caitlinpeluffo) December 18, 2017
Watching @CNN and thinking about all the frozen collard greens grandma packed in her luggage to take to noncooking relatives for #Christmas. Should be interesting when her bags are found. #ATLANTAairport #atlantapoweroutage
— Doctah LeLe (@LookNLive) December 18, 2017
— Andisheh Nouraee (@andishehnouraee) December 18, 2017
Can Atlanta get through the next two weeks without another fire-related disaster? We’ll see.